By Bill Catlette
Recently I wrote a blog post (http://contentedcows.com/2010/08/just-own-it/) in which I recommended that every organization should adopt a policy whereby any employee who becomes aware of a customer problem should be required to take ownership of the problem until such time as it can be safely handed off to someone who is able to fix it.
I never dreamt that I would soon see a vivid example of such "ownership" in action, but I did, and in a venue where you might not expect it. Following is an excerpt from a letter of commendation I wrote to Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson regarding the actions of one of his pilots.
"On Tuesday, August 31, I was a passenger on Delta flight# 1995 from Memphis to Salt Lake City. Shortly after boarding, it became apparent that a mechanical problem would delay our departure. My purpose in writing is to apprise you of the commendable performance of Capt. Robert Kisela.
Visibly taking ownership of the situation, Capt.Kisela:
1. Was persistent in his efforts to keep passengers informed and comfortable.
2. Took steps to support his crew and catering personnel in the performance of their duties throughout the lengthy delay and transfer to an alternate aircraft; e.g., at one point during the delay, he asked passengers to refrain from asking flight attendants about their Salt Lake City connections because at that point none of the crew had any information on our ETA. Instead, he promised that he would get the information and pass it along, leaving the cabin crew to attend to safety and comfort-related duties.
3. With chutzpah and a smile, prodded Delta personnel to get the plane fixed or replaced, which they did."
What was utterly fascinating to watch was the degree to which the rest of the crew, emboldened by the captain's leadership, also rose to the occasion.
During the transfer to a new aircraft and gate, the First Officer approached what appeared to be an off-duty gate agent and asked her if she had been assigned to work our flight. "Uh, no, she replied." Without missing a beat, he said, "Well, can you? Will you?" She assented, saving considerable time in the re-boarding process.
Not to be outdone, the three flight attendants amped up the friendliness, while remaining thoughtful and efficient, leading to the smoothest de-boarding and re-boarding that I have witnessed in 30+ years of road warriordom. This was evidenced by the near complete absence of the anger and carping that usually accompanies delays of this sort.
So why does any of this matter to the rest of us? Three reasons:
1. With the bar set as low as it currently is for service, customers are appreciative and flat out amazed, as I was, when they see employees extending themselves on the customer's behalf. They remember, tell others about it, and they come back.
2. It is impossible to overstate the impact that inspired behavior by one worker can have on others. Had the captain opted to just silently sit up front and wait for maintenance and flight scheduling staff to figure out the response to our problem, it's likely that the rest of the crew would have followed suit and powered back a notch. He didn't and they didn't. Your folks won't either.
3. We all need to look inside the dark corners of our organizations for systemic and cultural impediments that might be frustrating this type of performance from our own people. As importantly, we should also revisit our recognition and reward systems to ensure that they're working well, that people are thanked for their efforts (as I know Capt. Kisela will be), and rewarded meaningfully.